Today I had the opportunity to take a friend’s Harley Davidson Sportster 883 for an extended test ride, which included portions of riding in heavy urban traffic, a section of interstate as well as scenic two lane country roads. This was my first ever ride on a Harley Davidson, even though I have owned and ridden numerous motorcycles over the past 30 years.
First lets talk about riding posture. I am not a tall individual, in fact my inseam is only 30 inches, but I found the seat on the completely stock Sportster to be very low. Not only could I sit on the bike flat-footed, but my knees were actually bent. When riding, my leg position was quite uncomfortable, compared to larger bikes that I am used to.
The rider instrumentation on a Sportster is basic to say the least; equipped with only a speedometer, odometer and idiot light cluster. Even though it was not raining, the summer humidity in Florida was sufficient to fog up the bottom part of the speedometer, completely occluding the odometer. The self-cancelling turn signals were a surprise, but an override to cancel the turn signals when just changing lanes was absent.
On starting the engine it makes a noise that is unique to Harley’s but disconcerting to those, like myself, who are familiar with the seemingly better-tuned metric bikes.
Lean angle on the Sportster is very limited. In fact, I found myself scraping the left and right foot pegs when making basic left and right turns.
The 883 cc engine produces plenty of torque in all gears, but the power was disappointing.
I found that as the speedometer crept above 55 mph the foot pegs began to vibrate. At first, this was a somewhat pleasant sensation, but quickly turned to numbness in my feet that was actually painful by the time I gladly dismounted at the end of the test ride. This foot numbness was matched by the discomfort and numbness in my derriere from the stock seat which I found to be hard and poorly shaped to my body.
Around town the single front and rear disc brakes are adequate, though I found illumination from the single small headlight insufficient to make other road users aware of your position.
Riding on the highway I felt particularly vulnerable, given the small size of the bike, which I realize is just a personal perception. Due to the amount of engine vibration I was not comfortable taking the bike much over the 70 mph speed limit.
In summary, I would be hard-pressed to buy a Harley Davidson Sportster, given the many choices in the beginner motorcycle category, which includes several metric bikes, as well as the recently released Indian Scout. Anything more than a short ride on pleasant country roads leaves one longing to dismount. Given the opportunity to take an extended ride, the Harley Davidson Sportster 883 would certainly not be my choice.
John Lloyd, PhD
Motorcycle Human Factors and Biomechanics Expert